American birthplace of 'The Nutcracker' re-emerges in Brigham City

Sep 28 2013 - 6:48pm

Images

(Contributed to the Standard-Examiner)
A street view of the Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing building, 64 N. Main St. Brigham City officials plan to renovate the building and use it as building space as part of the Academy Square redevelopment.
(Contributed to the Standard-Examiner)
A street view of the Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing building, 64 N. Main St. Brigham City officials plan to renovate the building and use it as building space as part of the Academy Square redevelopment.

BRIGHAM CITY -- With a scoop of the metaphoric golden shovel, a project surrounding a 110-year-old building will finally move forward.

If all goes according to plan, residents will be able to dance on the floors said to have spawned "The Nutcracker" ballet in the United States.

Developers soon will break ground on a new Hampton Inn near Brigham City Hall.

When completed, the site will be home to a new 73-room business-class hotel.

Aside from more lodging space, the hotel is a major step toward the city's goal of revitalizing the old Academy of Music and Dancing building at 64 N. Main St. and the creation of Academy Square.

Sons of Danish immigrants, Christian and Peter Christensen built the Academy of Music and Dancing as an arts school and dance hall in 1903.

A member of the Christensen family, Willam Christensen, went on to choreograph "The Nutcracker" ballet for the San Francisco Ballet.

The Christensens sold the building, and the structure changed many hands over the years before finding itself vacant in the mid-1970s.

"We've been working to put it into use since then," said Paul Larsen, Brigham City's economic development director.

He is glad to finally see the project move forward.

Brigham City finally purchased the building in 1998, a few years after Larsen came to work for the city.

"It is pretty satisfying," Larsen said. "There were days I didn't think I would see it happen before I retired. I guess it has been a 15-year process, getting us to the point where we are now."

When completed, the building will be an event space for meetings, concerts, dances and receptions, restored to its early 20th-century splendor.

"Part of the project will be to restore the ballroom so it looks like it did in 1903," Larsen said. "It will be a really nice, elegant space for those kinds of events."

Much needed to be done before the city moved forward with the renovation of the Academy building, however.

Between 2010 and 2011, Brigham City officials did a hotel feasibility study.

Larsen said the city has heard complaints about the lack of lodging space for people visiting the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge or the new LDS Temple, attending sports tournaments or traveling on their way to Yellowstone and Jackson, Wyo.

The new hotel will also be available for business people coming for jobs and meetings at Autoliv and ATK.

"The hotel will draw from those activities," Larsen said.

Officials bought the lots to the east of the Academy building, which totaled about 1.5 acres, and sold them to the hotel developers, Western States Lodging, for $500,000.

"It's a company that has a lot of experience putting together those kind of deals and owns and operates a number of hotels in the region," Larsen said.

Western State Lodging's properties in the Top of Utah include the Hilton Garden Inn at The Junction in Ogden.

The hotel project will provide construction jobs in the Brigham City area for six to eight months and will bring about 25 staff jobs when finished.

More importantly, tax revenue from the hotel will go toward renovating the Academy building.

Along with tax revenue, Larsen said, city officials hope to raise money through foundations and private donors.

"What we hope to do is to raise a significant amount of private donations so we can reduce the amount of public dollars for the building," Larsen said.

The money will go toward adding an annex on the north of the building, which will provide elevators, storage, restrooms and restaurant space.

The cost of the Academy building project is estimated to be $2.5 million to $3 million. Larsen said the city will not know for sure until the project goes to bid in November.

Jim Catlin, the pastor at Main Street Church, 48 N. Main St., said he and the church's congregation welcome the improvements.

The nondenominational evangelical church with a 75-member congregation sits adjacent to the hotel's property and between the Academy building and Brigham City Hall.

However, since development has begun, Catlin said the church has received numerous requests to sell the property.

"There is something that changed when the hotel project came in," Catlin said.

For the past year, city-paid real estate agents have come by to show the church relocation options.

Larsen said the city would like to buy the church's 1/8-acre property for use with the Academy Square project.

But the congregation says it wants to stay put.

"Our desire is to stay where we are," Catlin said. "We like our community. We like our location. We just love being participants in the lives of downtown, and we would not like to see that change."

The church came to the location in 1993. Since then, its storefront appearance has helped draw people coming in off the street.

"We are really encouraging people to come in that have needs, and our location is key for that," Catlin said.

The location also allowed the church to have a large open house during Peach Days at the beginning of September. During the event, the church offers a large hospitality center, with free popcorn, nursing areas and use of restrooms.

Besides the possibility of altering their mission, church members feel the offers from the city are far too low.

"More than once, the city has made offers for our property that would be far below the cost to move," Catlin said. "To date, it would be extraordinarily destructive for us to move. It would be bankrupting to us."

Citywide, some residents criticized the city for backing the hotel's loan to pay for the $7 million development.

Larsen said the Academy Square project will be a boon to the downtown economy, and its development fits with the city's mission.

"There is a public interest in economic development and downtown revitalization," Larsen said. "Economic development is a public function, and there is a public interest in that."

In the end, a 110-year-old building will be brought back to life and its floors will be ready to be danced on again.

Contact reporter Jesus Lopez Jr. at 801-625-4239 or jlopez@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @jesuslopezSE.

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